An Interview With Jeremy Benton: Spin, Stokes And More

Don’t be surprised if you’re greeted by a colourful herd of cows, for you must be in Morrinsville in the ever zealous New Zealand! Known as the “Cream of the Country” that supports the dairy industry of the Waikato region, it was here where Jeremy Benton grew up playing BYC: Back-Yard Cricket. For those not hip to the lingo, he played with his dad and elder brother till the age of four. That was just the start for the Canterbury and New Zealand U-19 left arm spinner…

An alumnus of Christchurch Boys High School, which has produced cricketing stars like Sir Richard Hadlee, Chris Cairns, Chris Martin, Corey Anderson and his team mates Tom Latham and Todd Astle in the past, cricket was an obvious choice for Jeremy. When asked what were his favourite memories yet, he lists his debut for Christchurch Boys High School 1st XI vs Ashburton College, debuting for New Zealand U19 vs Australia and for Canterbury vs Sydney Thunder as his top three.

He’s a spinner by choice, not by convenience, but it wasn’t always easy for him.

“I used to bowl left arm mediums until I was 7, then my brother and dad told me to give spin a go, so I started bowling left arm chinaman. It was good and i enjoyed it, but when i started taking an interest in the Blackcaps, Daniel Vettori was probably the best bowler in the world, so I changed to left arm orthodox. Growing up I wanted to be just like him.”

Talking of chinaman bowling, that is something his teammate Blake Coburn bowls well and gives Canterbury a unique depth in the spin bowling department.

His list A debut (40 off 45 and 1-45) came a year after his T20 debut ( 3-0-30-1) in 2016. So does he see himself making First Class debut this season?

“To play first class cricket is a big goal of mine that I would love to achieve. I enjoy the longer formats of the game so hopefully I will be able to don the whites for Canterbury in the foreseeable future and get the red cherry in my hand.”

Recently during the 2017/18 Ashes, when England were toiling hard without their main man Ben Stokes, domestic cricketers were picking his brains and taking a note from his work ethic.

“It was pretty cool getting to play with Stokesy for the time when he was at Canterbury. I met him a season before when I was over playing for Durham Academy so was cool to catch up with him again. Obviously he’s played a lot of cricket and is one of the best in the world, so was good to see how he prepares for a game, what he does at training and even just talk to him about how he plays the game or his thoughts on certain scenarios. He was really helpful with my tactics in limited overs bowling and worked with him on fielding techniques. He works hard and hits a lot of balls at training as well as after when everyone has gone, so there is no excuse why he’s one of the world’s best. “

Jeremy has played a lot of club cricket since his early teenage years. In recent times, he’s been spending time away in the off season where he had a stint with Whittburn CC in England. He picked around 30 scalps for them and produced his best bowling figures of 4-40 for the club against Durham Academy. Now he’s playing for Cork County CC in Ireland. For a left arm spinner from New Zealand, there’s not much game time at the domestic level, so club cricket around the globe becomes crucial to sharpen your skills. Heck, even Michael Beer had to toil for close to ten years in clubs of Melbourne to earn his Baggy Green!

Having played in the UK, Ireland and New Zealand he feels the conditions are similar but a tad askew at times.

“Overall, conditions in Europe are very similar to New Zealand. The grounds in Europe are mainly smaller, which is great for my batting, but little bit tougher on my bowling. Back home, the majority of grounds are relatively big. Club cricket has a greater following in Europe with regards to social media as well as crowds and teams in the clubs. Pitches aren’t too much different, I’d say that NZ pitches are quicker and flatter while with the pitches over here, the ball doesn’t come on quite as much. And of course rain! There is a little bit more rain in UK/Ireland, compared to NZ. Although it doesn’t seem to stop us from playing though!”

So with non-turning pitches being prepared pre-dominantly in Ireland and New Zealand, how does a finger spinner adapt to different formats?

“Personally I try and change the pace of the balls I bowl and mix up the spot where I deliver the ball from. If the pitch isn’t turning much, it’s key to be extra consistent and accurate to make the batsman take a risk, hopefully creating an error and getting a wicket.”

After completing his graduation in April from Lincoln University, he flew straight to Ireland and plans to spend five months playing for Cork County CC. He reflects on his time with the club so far:

“Loving my time with Cork County CC. The team as well as the club environment is really nice and is the leading cricket club of Southern Ireland. The team culture is great with a good mix of youngsters and experience. Many people in the area take an invested interest in the club. The ground is fantastic and is located in the middle of Cork City on the Riverless banks since 1874! With the nation gaining Test status and playing their first game last month, cricket in Ireland is on the way up throughout the country, which is really exciting to be part of.”

 

With the introduction of Munster Reds in Ireland’s Interprovincial T20 Tournament , he turned out for them as their overseas player.

“I was fortunate enough to be selected in the Reds for the T20 season which has been a good challenge but really enjoyed it. They’re a good bunch of lads and we have gone close in the first three games, so hopefully can get a win on the board in our next game. The standard of cricket in the competition is very high and its been great to play against players that I have seen on TV at World Cups , such as the O’Briens, Dockrells, Poterfields etc.”

So far, he’s had a good run. “I have been reasonably happy with my start to the Ireland cricket season. With bowling, I have got a few wickets throughout the games, bowling at all stages of the games which has been a challenge I have enjoyed. With regards to batting, I think my last three innings have been 60,70 and 90, so hopefully can get to three figures soon and continue to help the team get over the line in the games that we have coming up.”

 

As a young spinner, his biggest Test was perhaps playing in the 2014 U19 World Cup in the UAE where he scalped five wickets from six matches conceding runs at a miserly economy of 3.12. Last year, he was part of a spin camp in Chennai organised by Global Cricket School.

He reflects on his takeaways from his first trip to India: “Loved every minute of India, hopefully can go back in the near future. I went through Canterbury Cricket with players such as Ken McClure, Cole McConchie and Jack Boyle. It was to prepare for our season at home, learn how to play in those conditions (vastly different to Christchurch!) as well as learn skills from local players and coaches. My biggest takeaway would have been techniques and game plans that their spinners use in those conditions. Learning the way they think gave me another way at looking at the way I bowl to different batsmen and how I combat bowlers when batting.”

With T20 cricket on the rise, he thinks finger spin is not an art of the past and is here to stay. “If you look at the top spinners in the T20 world at the moment a lot of them are leg spinners such as Ish Sodhi, Rashid Khan, Shadab Khan. In the past, they have more been recognised as longer format bowlers, but it’s great to see spinners at the top of the rankings. I still believe there is always a place in the eleven for a finger spinner as they can play such a crucial role in all stages of the game.”

It can be tough for a spinner in T20s with batsmen sweeping and putting all sorts of dynamic stroke-plays on display; so what plans does he have when playing the shortest format? “It all depends on the type of batter, the situation of the game, boundary sizes etc. It’s all about making the batsman take a higher risk than I do, whether its hitting to the big boundary, going inside out or playing a reverse sweep. You have to be one step ahead of the batsman which is becoming increasingly difficult with their abilities in the modern game but it’s exciting and that is why I play the game!”

On a final note, what’s the most enjoyable part of playing the sport that he chose at an early age?

“Going on tours away is one of the great things about cricket. Getting to travel the world and meeting people from different backgrounds is something I really enjoy and is what I am experiencing here in Ireland. Every tour has been different. I think my first real tour was when I was 14, my Christchurch Boys High School 3rd form team went over to Brisbane to play in the Southern Skies Tournament. The boys were all pretty excited to go away from our families and live together for a week in hot weather and play cricket together. The Under 19 Cricket World Cup tour was pretty cool. Playing against other nations in stadiums that I had watched on TV was awesome. It’s cool to see a lot of those players who played at that world cup on the world stage now such as Tim Seifert, Aiden Markram, Imam-ul-Haq, Billy Stanlake and Kagiso Rabada to name a few. I have played in countries such as Australia, Sri Lanka, India, Ireland, United Kingdom, U.A.E, even had a game in Singapore! It’s fascinating how cricket has taken me so far and hopefully I will be lucky enough to play for many years to come!”

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